Help me understand Flannery O'Connor's "Wise Blood" (open spoilers)

I just finished reading Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood” and…I’m baffled. Completely baffled. A full plot summary can be found on Wikipedia if you need a refresher, but but to be very brief it’s about a recently discharged vet who moves to a southern town to preach to anyone who will listen that Jesus’s message was a lie, and that you don’t need Christ for redemption. He meet’s an 18-year old guy who is obsessed with a mummified dwarf in the local museum which he steals and then gives to the vet, who throws it away. (The 18-year old then steals a gorilla outfit which he dresses up in to scare people.) Meanwhile the vet starts stalking an itinerant preacher and his ugly teenage daughter to prove to them that religion is a lie; he sleeps with the daughter to try to drive home his point. When someone else in town tries to make a buck off his anti-religion message he runs the guy over with his car, blinds himself with lye, then effectively starves himself for a few years and dies in a ditch.

Huh? Maybe you can see why I’m baffled. I googled to try to find an answer and found The Guardian’s book club column which includes the not very elucidating passage: “Decades on, with all the mountains of articles and books written about O’Connor’s Catholicism, it’s hard to imagine anyone failing to see what lies at the heart of the book. … In fact, I find it hard to imagine that there were ever problems of interpretation. Yes, there’s more to the book. Yes, Motes is an admirable (and very funny) nihilist. But still. You can’t really miss it, can you?”

Gee, thanks. So I turn to the SDMB. What is this book all about? How is Motes an “admirable nihilist”? (That, according to the article, was O’Connor’s own estimation of her main character.) What did Hazel Motes (the veteran) do that turned him so strongly against religion? Are we to assume that it was something in his military experiences? There’s not really any hint of this except when Enoch (the 18-year old) thinks to himself that Motes seems like the kind of person who had killed someone. Speaking of Enoch, what’s the symbolism of the mummy? Why does he dress as a gorilla? What is Sabbath Lily’s relationship with her father - if that even is her father? Why does Motes punish himself at the end - because he ran the guy over with his car? Why was he apparently never arrested, nor even investigated for the crime? What was this all supposed to mean?

And though I was frustrated by the book, I should also be clear that I enjoyed it. As with this reader, I liked the unexpectedness of it and the sharpness of the prose. Definitely one of a kind.

Looking forward to hearing any thoughts or opinions.

I’ve always read it as a story about Motes’ struggle to understand and accept salvation through Christ. O’Connor herself would probably put a finer touch on it, if she agreed with that at all. She tended to disagree with most interpretations of her work. At the very least, according to the author, Enoch the character is supposed to by a symbol for Motes’ own anxieties. So if you’re trying to find the meaning the author intended, you should probably read them as a single character.

Basically, as with nearly all of her stories, it’s about a character struggling to come to terms with something they know but don’t fully appreciate or comprehend.